Day 41 – Espanola to South Baymouth, ON – 110km

The weather was quite uncertain today. Thunder showers were in the forecast, but in the end they held off. There was always at least one threatening part of the sky along with frequent patches of blue sky. The wind was quite strong and the direction kept shifting between the southeast and the west. The road was just as uncertain as the weather. I had stretches of smooth, wide paved shoulder and lengths with no shoulder where even the road was cracked, crumbling, and freckled with loose gravel.

I have to wake up quite early tomorrow to be in line for the first ferry of the morning from Manitoulin Island to Tobermory, on the Bruce Peninsula. At about 10:30am, I get off the ferry and reunite with my brother, dad, and my dog after about 50-something days. My friend Tom will also be there. He’s driving up north from Toronto with Kerr and Burns as I type this right now. Tom will be cycling down to near Owen Sound with me tomorrow from Tobermory. I’m exhilarated, yet also so worn out at the same time–it’s such a strange feeling.

That’s all for today—I need my beauty sleep. I stayed up until 3am last night trying to post all of my blogs from the last week (with caterpillar-paced internet), so perhaps it’s more of a catch-up sleep.

-Skye

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Day 40 – Thessalon to Espanola – 163km

We slept in a bit today. I was up late last night trying to catch up. Max, David, my mom and I ate breakfast at our site’s picnic table. It was another nice day. I suppose we have lots of sunshine days in the bank after all the rain and headwinds the last couple weeks. Ha! If only the weather worked like that. Thunderstorms are in the forecast for tomorrow.

Max, David and I rode 125km together today. We made decent time and had a fairly relaxed day taking turns drafting each other. We were a bit stiff to start after yesterday’s change in pace, but we loosened up after the first 2 hours. At Massey, Max and David stopped at Chutes Provincial Park to camp for the night. We said our goodbyes. I’m heading down into southern Ontario whereas they’re cutting across the north to Quebec to reach their finish in Chicoutimi by the 8th of July. I kept pedaling on to Espanola. I’ll miss those guys.

I passed through a tiny town called Webwood. I think this town had the most visually apparent sexism of any place I’ve been on this trip. There was a huge ad for Old Milwaukee Beer: “Get a free girl with every can”. Just a couple seconds later, I had to laugh, but I was a little shocked. The town’s general store was called, “STEWART and wife’s General Store”. “STEWART” took up most of the sign and the word “wife” was stuck in there, literally in lower case, and there was no mention of her name on the sign. Ironically (and supposedly), Webwood elected Canada’s first female mayor. A sign at the beginning of the town reads: “Webwood, Home of Canada’s first woman mayor”. Grammatically, that doesn’t sound right. Neither does the tone.  Ok, enough torching of Webwood for now.

We were staying at the Thessalon Municipal Campground. Chris, the manager, was quite supportive of our ride. He was very interested in what we’re doing, and kind to us.  Have you ever met someone who just seems to love and appreciate every morsel of life? I got that sense from Chris, although I hardly know him. It came up in our conversation about cross-country charity campaigns that he is a cancer survivor. It makes sense that if he thought he was going to lose his life, and ended up keeping it, that he would never take life for granted again.  Life is precious, and part of what makes it precious is our ability to communicate. It’s one of the lessons I’ve learned from Kerr.

Follow me on this one. Let’s say you’re a clever person. Perhaps you’re creative and full of other talents. Let’s say you didn’t have a way to communicate efficiently for years. Let’s even say you didn’t have a way to be heard at all. Let’s say that just recently, your life changed. You got the services and supports you needed to communicate. Let’s say that the people around you became educated, and ensured your participation. How would you feel, now that you finally have a way to be heard? Would you take your voice for granted? Unlikely.

At this moment, I’m camped at Lake Apseley which is several kilometres south of Espanola. I’m just a little over 100km from rolling onto the ferry which will take me to my reunion point with Kerr and Burns on Wednesday morning. Owen Sound, Toronto, Peterborough, everyone, here I come!

-Skye

Day 39 – Sault Ste. Marie to Thessalon, ON – 85km

I woke up sprawled across my extra-large bed; something I haven’t had the luxury of doing for a long time. After eating a hearty trucker breakfast in the Travelodge restaurant, Lynne, Max, and David met my mom and I outside our hotel. We went on a quick sight-seeing tour of downtown Sault Ste. Marie—the bridge into the States, the scenic boardwalk on the peaceful river, the Roberta Bondar tent. Thanks to Lynne, we saw the Soo with efficiency and got all the photos! It felt like a Sunday. The sun was shining. The river was peaceful. There was hardly any wind. Traffic was almost non-existent.

Max, Me, David, Gail

After our sightseeing, we went to the Central United Church where “Koncert for Kilometres” was held. There was a genuine friendliness to everyone we met at the church. It seemed like they had met us before, or that we were from their town. These people reached out and strived to understand how they could improve the lives of others in their communities and wanted to do all they could to help our cause; even though they had never met us. Gail and I were given a brief introduction, and then we had our chance to say thank you. Many of the people in the room helped Kilometres for Communication in some way—attending the event, performing, organizing the event, or broadcasting info about “Koncert for Kilometres” on a local radio station.

Just before going into the church

Often, I find the pace of the campaign is too fast. It has to be fast, otherwise costs would be higher and we may never get across the country. However, there is a slight frustration that accompanies the rapid pace. I’m constantly meeting people on this trip—generous, brilliant, intensely active, and people who have stories to tell. Some people I get to know better than others, but almost always, when it’s time for me to leave, I feel sad. I haven’t really gotten to know them that well. If I have, then I’ll miss them. I always have more questions to ask, and almost always, I feel like my simple “thank you” doesn’t do justice to the warmth that people have shared with us.

We didn’t stick around at the church for long. We were meeting people at Velorution (a local bike shop) for 11:30am. Gavin and Jav (apologies if I’ve made a spelling error) were waiting. As David, Max, and I were getting ready, more people started arriving. Quinn and his mother Suzanne came. Ben brought his dad, Stan, along. Both Ben and Quinn are fairly young fellows, so we figured that they might like to see the banner that the Cool Communicators at the Camp Winfield Easter Seals camp had made for Kilometres. We showed them the banner with the children and youth’s handprints with their names and the communication devices they use written inside their handprints. I looked up, and we had a fleet of road bikers ready to pedal; Christine, Robbie (the mech at Velorution), Gavin, Jav, and Max and David (again, apologies for any spelling
errors). There was a 15-minute gathering in the sunshine as we got organized to hit the road. We took a group photo, said our farewells, and then it was time to pedal to Thessalon, about 80km away.

The crew at Velorution

Quinn and Ben meeting

We tucked into a line, and cranked it to the turn-off for St. Joe’s Island—about the halfway point of the day’s ride. We were making great time with the echelon-style of riding. We averaged just under 35km/hr in a headwind. It makes all the difference drafting, but inevitably your turn to lead the pack will come. At this halfway point, Detlef and Dan joined us (again, apologies for misspellings). Gavin, Jav, and Robbie went for another couple kilometres before they turned off to go home. Detlef, Dan, David, Max and I remained. We maintained our pace and made great time to Thessalon. We learned later on that the email sent out requested  the ‘fast road bikers’. David, Max and I have been used to riding at a much slower pace so as to not wear down our bodies on our tour, so this was quite the change in riding style. We definitely had fun cranking it, but tomorrow will have to start out quite lightly.

The gathering at the St. Joe's turn-off

Departing from the halfway point

We did 85km in 2 hours and 40 minutes, so we arrived at the campground quite early. There was a beach across the road from our site, so we decided to go for a swim and have a stretch. I still am trying to catch up on all my missed blogs as well as everything else. I took a little time to relax earlier, so now I’m up late typing away. I probably won’t have the patience or time to wait for the slow internet to upload all my photos tonight, so it will still be another day until my blogs are up. Then again, if you’re reading this, my blogs are up, so this fact is irrelevant.

Max et David sporting the Velorution jerseys--thanks to Lynne

How to sum it all up? The last 36 hours in the Soo have been fantastic. I have so many people to thank. Lynne, your generosity was legendary. Huge thanks to the local riders for the tow and company; I felt excited to ride my bike. Thank you to Rachel, Suzanne, Quinn, Ben, and Stan for coming out to Velorution—it was a delight to meet you. To everyone involved with the “Koncert”, you did a fantastic job that won’t be forgotten by those who attended. Marcella, I didn’t get to ride with you, but I adored the comfy bed and spacious shower of the Travelodge; thank you! What a gift! And what a crew in the Soo!

-Skye

Day 38 – Pancake Bay to Sault Ste. Marie, ON – 75km

Today had a different feel. I slept in. The sun was shining. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Our campsite was across from a wonderful sandy beach at Pancake Bay Provincial Park. I got all my wet gear outside to dry out in the sun. Then it was time to hit the beach. After days of cold rainy riding, it was such a pleasant change to stand in the sun on a beach. I had a relaxed stretch session to someone gently playing the guitar further down the beach.

I decided to go for a swim. Lake Superior was quite frigid, but the sun was hot, the beach was beautiful, and the water was clear. I waded in. I stood thigh-high in the water, chicken to plunge in. I noticed that my foot was numb. I dove in, moved around furiously for half a minute, and then gave up.

A chilly wade into Superior

I got on the road around quarter to 2. I made great time. The sun was shining, there was very little wind, and the scenery was still gorgeous; lots of beaches, endless water, and rolling hills. I was in the Soo 2 hours and 40 minutes later. Really, my day was just getting started.

There’s a saint who lives in Sault Ste. Marie. Her name is Lynne Brown. I knew from her email correspondence with us and her effort to organize the benefit “Koncert for Kilometres” that she was full of energy and kindness, but I had never met her. I finally met her when I arrived in Sault Ste. Marie around 4:30.

There’s a great bike shop called Velorution near where I stopped for the day. I would be meeting some local riders there tomorrow. Lynn suggested we go and check out the shop before it closed for the day—it was a nice shop; lots of room and a dirt pump track outside for the local kids to mess around on. Lynne had got me two Velorution bike jerseys, and some other bike goodies.

Back in the mountains, I met Max and David. I rode with them around Lake Louise. Our schedules have been just a couple days off ever since Calgary due to different routes and a different itinerary. When my mom arrived at the Sault Ste. Marie Walmart parking lot where I stopped pedaling, she told me that she had met Max and David a little after I left Pancake Bay. They were going to make it to the Soo for the night.

How we would meet, get showered, store our stuff, park, who would sleep where—I’ll spare you all that. In the end, Max and David reunited with me. Lynne, Gail, Max, David, and I went out to dinner. A huge thank you to Marcella, a local road biker who couldn’t make our event, but generously donated much appreciated hotel rooms to Gail and I. Marcella, if you’re reading this, we’ve heard from several people that you’re a delight, and we’re sorry we didn’t get to meet you.

Koncert for Kilometres was an emotional event. From what we hear, some people were crying. There were intense emotions of empathy and astonishment after the concert began with “Only God Could Hear Me”. You can watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ytn53lTdsf0

A comical moment where two talented musicians began to play different songs at the beginning helped to ease the pent-up emotion after “Only God Could Hear Me”. Local musicians fiddled, fluted, piped, and played with passion. Lynne made it all happen. I heard about all of this as I sipped lemonade on a deck in Lynne’s backyard. She handed me the program for the concert. At the end of the event, they sang Oscar Peterson’s and Harriette Hamilton’s “Hymn to Freedom”; a phenomenal choice. These are the words:

When every heart joins every heart,

And together yearns for liberty,

That’s when we’ll be free.

When every hand joins every hand,

And together moulds our destiny,

That’s when we’ll be free.

Any hour any day, the time soon will come,

When men will live in dignity,

That’s when we’ll be free.

When every man joins in our song,

and together singing harmony,

That’s when we’ll be free.

-Skye

Day 37 – Wawa to Pancake Bay, ON – 153km

There’s a distinct feeling of awe that I have looking out on an open body of water when I can’t see the land on the other side. For some reason, I could stare for hours at the waves. My curiosity about what is on the other side of the prairie of water puts me in a thoughtful trance. Right now, we are camped in Pancake Bay Provincial Park. Our site is just across from the sandy beach. It’s amazing to think that the piece of land which I cannot see is the land where I was just 4 days ago.

Since Thunder Bay, I’ve managed to get a full day ahead of schedule. I’ve finished my third day of pedaling 150km+ in the rain. Since Winnipeg, I’ve only had one day without rain, and even that day had a shower part-way through. Anyways, tomorrow I’m sleeping in. It’s a 75km ride into Sault Ste. Marie, and finally, the forecast is calling for sun. I don’t have to be on the road until 1pm. I’m going to have a nice stretch session on the beach and perhaps go for a cold swim. Then it’s off to the Soo!

Lynne Brown has done a fantastic job supporting Kilometres for Communication. Two nights ago, “Koncert for Kilometres” went down. It was raining, but nonetheless, the event which had 5 hours of talent raised over $600. Huge thanks to everyone who performed, came out, and definitely to Lynne, for all the hard work. Tomorrow I get to meet Lynne in person when I cycle in. I’m excited to meet our Kilometres Sault Ste. Marie champion in person. I continue to be amazed on this trip by the generosity of people who have never met us.

Today was a pretty dismal day for weather; lots of light rain, rain, intense fog which I actually enjoyed riding through, and two downpours (one to start the day, one to end the day). The wind was favourable today, which was lovely. I caught up to my companion from yesterday as planned, about 50km in. So for about 4 hours, we shared the nasty weather and cranked through the last 100km of our day. Nature’s spite is much more tolerable with company. I’m so thankful to have had a fellow rider the last 2 days. Thank you Wanetta, you saved me from a 12-hour mental battle.

There was some spectacular scenery. The fog added beauty to the rolling mini-mountains, but it also ruined the scenic look-outs that we would have had over Superior. At some points, the road went quite near the shoreline. With the dense fog, it was quite mystical scenery.

I’m feeling really pumped right now, despite having travelled over 1100km in 7 days of rain. I’m going to be meeting lots of great people over the next 2 days. I get to sleep in tomorrow. Sunshine and favourable winds are finally in the forecast. Most importantly, I’m 4 days away from reuniting with my dad and brother. There’s a lot planned and lots of company ahead. I’m stoked.

Hopefully that week of rain and headwinds has ended, and my initiation into my own province has been completed.

-Skye

Day 36 – Hemlo to Wawa, ON – 152km

The beginning of today was wretched. A little bit of blue sky teased me as I was getting my bike ready for the day’s ride. The blue sky was in the opposite direction that I was biking in. It was raining. Then it began raining more. My rain gear was already damp from the day before. Within a half hour of my ride, I was absolutely soaked. Riding in pouring rain, getting misted by trucks, is really like taking a shower. You will get soaked no matter what you’re wearing. On days like this, I don’t like to stop a lot. I just want to get it over and done with. If I stop every hour or every other hour and go into a warm, dry RV, I will find it impossible to get to my destination. First, you don’t really notice how soaking wet you are until you enter a dry place—although you do feel the puddles in your shoes and your sopping gloves. My main reason for avoiding frequent breaks is that it’ such a tease to experience the comfort and then force myself to go back outside.

The 70km ride to White River from where we stayed (about 30km east of Marathon) was a mental battle. Just after White River, I met another cyclist, Wanetta. She’s doing a cross-Canada as well. She isn’t travelling with the weight of panniers because she’s doing a supported ride similar to what I’m doing. Her campaign is called Cycling Across Canada Raw. She’s raising money to send people through a health and lifestyle workshop which was profound in her life. To learn more about her campaign, check out the website: http://www.ridingraw.webs.com/. Anyhow, the last 80km of today was mostlyin the  rain, but it wasn’t gruelling because I had a new friend to ride with. I was supposed to pass my French friends, Max and David, at some point today, but I never saw them. There’s no cell reception around here, so it’s difficult to schedule a rendezvous. Perhaps I’ll see them tomorrow, but I ended up with company today, and that made my treacherous day somewhat enjoyable. Amazing what communication can do.

Wanetta and I part-way through a rainy ride

Today, the road went inland. Tomorrow, the road is following the shores of Superior again, so I hope to get the helmet camera rolling for some beautiful scenery. It should be a tough, but gorgeous ride. I think rain is in the forecast again, but supposedly, I’ll have a tailwind.

It’s a short blog tonight. I have to do some laundry. All the rain has forced me to go through my entire cycling wardrobe.

-Skye

Day 35 – Cavers to Hemlo, Ontario – 157km

Over a month ago, as we were driving out west, I was feeling quite scared seeing the roads that I’ve been on today and yesterday. I saw the speeds that the trucks were driving, narrow shoulders, and countless steep climbs and descents. I had some long distances planned—I really wondered if my itinerary was realistic. As we drove into Thunder Bay, a lane was blocked on one of the arterials. A dog had been hit by a car. A line of cars had stopped behind the car that had hit it; there was a crowd of people around this poor creature struggling for its life. There was a noticeable pool of blood around the dog people were trying to wrap in blankets. It was quite a disturbing scene. We drove by, but didn’t stop.

Shortly after, we stopped for the night in a Walmart parking lot. I couldn’t sleep. The image of that dog, the blood on the road, and the unexpectedness of the situation for whomever was involved—they triggered something in me. There was a bit of homesickness. I wanted to see my dog and my loved ones. However, there was another fear. After driving over 800km on roads that scared me, seeing all the truck traffic, and seeing how impatient and fast the truckers were—I felt terrified that I would be riding this stretch a month later.

Well here I am. The roads aren’t as bad as I feared. My distances were long, but despite wind and rain, I’m actually 30km ahead of schedule. I should be a full day ahead of schedule by the end of tomorrow. The shoulders are great at times, but quite narrow for the most part. Usually the trucks and RVs will go into the other lane to pass me. I do have to be hyper-alert, but I wouldn’t call it nerve-racking.

Anyways, I probably shouldn’t even bother writing about the weather, because it seems to have been the same for the last number of weeks: headwinds, cloudy, and patches of rain. The scenery has been spectacular (I did get the helmet camera out for the first time today since the Rockies). Small mountains of Canadian Shield line Lake Superior, and the highway goes down to the shoreline, in-land into river valleys, and up several hundred metres to the top of these mini-mountains for stunning views. The road goes up 200 to 300 metres, then it goes down. Up, then down, up…then down. Today was mostly slow on the climbs, fast descents to compensate, and fairly slow on the flats with the fierce wind. The wind was a little ridiculous at times today. I climbed to the top of a mountain, and was met by a fierce gust at the top. Ok, I’ll be going downhill soon enough, not a problem. Nope. The road did go down. There was actually a long descent with about a 3-4% grade, but the wind was blowing fiercely against me. I descended this mountain in my lowest gear. I was going only slightly faster downhill than it took me to climb. I kept checking to see if I had a flat tire. Nope. I felt like a piece of paper. I needed more weight behind me. Gravity wasn’t a strong force compared to the wind.

I’m leaving the coast of Superior for the next day as I travel to Wawa. Today I passed through Schreiber, Terrace Bay, and Marathon. Hopefully I’ll be in Sault Ste. Marie a day early for a rest day! I’ve been making good tracks in Ontario; 860km in 5 days of cycling.

In my mind, challenges have 2 characteristics. One: they are daunting. Two: they can be overcome. Two years ago, at the beginning of my year off between high school and university, I knew what I wanted to see out of Kilometres, but had no idea how to go about it. Bit by bit, things came together. I was lost at times, excited, and sometimes had no clue. Bit by bit, I’m cycling the roads I feared, and exceeding the distances that I thought were ambitious. Many people were telling me before the ride had started that my distances were too long.

So, we’re faced with this challenge: in Canada, waiting lists for communication devices and services are long (lengths vary from region to region). Every day, there are adults in Canada who get talked to like kids, because people don’t understand that “speech disability” is not a synonym for “slow, immature, or stupid”—there are many other common attitudes and assumptions that need to be extinct. Policies aren’t what they should be in many places, AAC isn’t a high priority in most governments (but what is one of the most important things in life…communication?). There are people out there who can communicate, but don’t have a way to because they don’t have the access, or there isn’t the recognition in their community. All of this is a challenge. Bit by bit, it can be overcome. Is there a clear linear path? No. We don’t really know where the road will wind, how many hills and valleys it will climb, or what the weather will be like. We do know where the road ends. We keep going until we get there. We don’t know how long it will take, but we do what we can, and one day we’ll get there.

-Skye